Today’s matchup between Florida and Georgia holds a dubious distinction sure not to be found in game notes or media guides but one mocked on blogs and message boards.
In 2010, the longtime rivals have combined for nine wins — four each this season plus the Gators’ Sugar Bowl win on New Year’s Day.
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They also have 16 arrests in the past 10 months — five for the Gators, 11 for the Bulldogs.
With that backdrop, it seems almost fitting that wide receiver Chris Rainey, whose Sept. 14 arrest was the most recent for the Gators, could return today.
“You get a reputation. Certain programs will get a reputation,” said Mike Farrell, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “I don’t think Georgia’s reached that point yet. I don’t think Florida’s reached that point yet.”
Outside of the splash of negative headlines, few effects linger for either program.
Georgia coach Mark Richt is on the hot seat, but that has more to do with lack of on-field success than problems off it. Columnists and college football analysts have criticized Florida coach Urban Meyer for reinstating Rainey.
But the legal issues have not hurt recruiting. Florida received three verbal commitments this week, bringing its total for the 2011 class to 18. The Gators have Rivals’ third-ranked recruiting class.
Recruiting expert Tom Lemming said recruits are not worried by arrests. He and Farrell agreed that they have not seen arrests be the deciding factor on whether a player chooses a program.
“If you’re winning and there’s enthusiasm about the program, anything short of murder will come up short,” Lemming said. “Florida is a program right now that nothing will stick to because they’re winning.”
It’s losing that allows arrests to become a factor. After three consecutive losses, Florida can make the case to recruits that it is rebuilding this year, Farrell said. But Georgia, which lost five times last year, is an easy target for coaches recruiting against the Bulldogs.
“These are guys that the character of the head coaches was never in question. Out of the two programs, clearly, Georgia is in more trouble, and people are really starting to pile on them,” Farrell said. “That’s a program where the vultures are circling around it, and the vultures in this case are the other SEC programs.”
Winning a rivalry game to stay in the championship hunt certainly will not hurt what seems to be the only lingering effect of these arrests — bad PR.
“I think obviously the initial sting is a lot of negativity brought on towards the program and disappointment,” Meyer said. “Then it’s an opportunity for a young man to clear his name and get himself right and get him going, like we’ve had a bunch of guys around here and a bunch of guys all over the place.”